This is all good — but we can do better.
Best practices for a robust backup strategy call for keeping a backup copy off-site. OneDrive, included as part of Windows 10, can do that automatically.
We’ll set up OneDrive, and then make a couple of changes to other applications to make our use of OneDrive for backing up nearly transparent.
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Microsoft account and connectivity
You need a Microsoft account to use OneDrive.
You may already be using one to log into your PC. If you’re logging in with an email address — particularly if it’s an @hotmail.com, @outlook.com, @msn.com, or other Microsoft-provided email domain — you already have one.
If not, and you don’t have a Microsoft account at all, I’d recommend visiting outlook.com and signing up for a new account. It’s free.
You will also need to be online for OneDrive to work. It’s best if you’re constantly connected, but it’ll work with an intermittent connection as well. As with all things online, the faster the better.
OneDrive is standard in Windows 10. In fact, it’s downright difficult to remove. 🙂
If OneDrive has not yet been set up, you’ll often get a notification to “finish” setting it up, and the taskbar icon may have a red error indicator.
If you don’t see the icon, you may need to click the “Show hidden icons” carat (^ – not present above), to make the OneDrive icon appear in the notification area.
Click the OneDrive icon to launch the set-up process.
Setting up OneDrive
First, you’ll be asked for the email address corresponding to your Microsoft account. Type it in and click Sign in.
Once signed in, you’ll be shown the location of your OneDrive folder, with the option to change that location.
Unless you have a specific reason to change it — such as placing it on a different drive — leaving it at the default location is fine. That location will be “C:\Users\<login id>\OneDrive”, where “<login id>” is replaced with your log-in identifier. In the example above, that’s “lnote”. That puts the OneDrive folder in the same place as your Documents folder (“C:\Users\<login id>\Documents”), your Downloads folder (“C:\Users\<login id>\Downloads”), your Pictures folder (“C:\Users\<login id>\Pictures”), and others.
You’ll be presented with a list of folders in your OneDrive account.
Since I already have and use OneDrive, it displays a list of the folders already included there. The contents of all the folders I select will be downloaded and mirrored on my PC. If this is your first use of OneDrive, your folder list may be empty.
Unless you know you have specific requirements otherwise, make sure “Sync all files and folders in OneDrive” is checked. Click on Next.
That’s it! Well, you may be presented with some “Isn’t OneDrive wonderful?” marketing and informational messages, but it’s set up. OneDrive is at work.
What OneDrive does for backing up
After setting it up, you might be wondering why we bothered with all that. What’s in it for us?
At its most basic, OneDrive operates similarly to other cloud storage services: what’s on your hard drive is a mirror — a copy — of what’s in your OneDrive account online.
Great. What’s that mean?
- Any time you add or update a file or folder within the OneDrive folder on your machine, it is automatically uploaded to OneDrive online.
- Any time a file appears in OneDrive online, it’s automatically downloaded to the OneDrive folder on your machine.
The file is available in both locations, and you can use either.
For our purposes today, that’s it. In fact, I’m going to completely ignore the second one and focus entirely on the first: whenever you add or change something in the OneDrive folder on your machine, it’s automatically uploaded.
Or to put another way: it’s automatically backed up to the cloud.
Leveraging OneDrive transparently
The easiest way to make sure OneDrive is always backing up your work is to always do your work in OneDrive.
That means instead of creating your new documents (or Pictures, or Music, or whatever) in your “Documents” folder, create them in your OneDrive folder. Then every time you hit “Save”, the document is updated on your disk and uploaded to your OneDrive online account.
Put another way: every time you hit “Save”, your document is backed up to the cloud. Your PC could be destroyed, but your document(s) will still be there, online, in your OneDrive account.
The easiest way to do this is to change the default folder your applications use. Unfortunately, that’s not a global setting; it’s something you need to locate and change for each application.
Some applications remember the last folder you used and automatically use that folder again the next time you create or save a document. Others will not remember at all, and you need to remember to Save your document to your OneDrive folder. Others, like Microsoft Word (shown below), have options buried in advanced settings that allow you to change the default location.
The default will almost certainly be “C:\Users\<login id>\Documents”; you want to modify that to be “C:\Users\<login id>\OneDrive”. If you’re like me, and like to keep things organized, you might create a folder within your OneDrive folder — perhaps “WordDocs” — and set the default location to “C:\Users\<login id>\OneDrive\WordDocs”. Now all the new documents you create will:
- Be created in OneDrive.
- Be automatically uploaded every time you click on “Save” or exit the program.
It may seem like a little hassle to locate the options within the programs you use most often, but it’s something you need to do only once …
… and it’ll pay off any time you need to grab a file from your OneDrive online backup.